Education about Religious Beliefs in Australia

Project Description

While the role of religion in Australian schools has been vigorously debated since the 1870s, it has recently generated considerable controversy, particularly in the state of Victoria. Christian volunteers currently teach the vast majority of the students who elect to take Special Religions Instruction (SRI) in Victoria's government schools. Minority faith communities, including Baha'is, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs also provide SRI programs while the Humanist Society of Victoria's proposal to teach Ethics as a non-religious SRI alternative was rejected in 2009. In early 2010 the case Aitken and Others vs. Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD) was lodged at the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT), in which three families claimed that their children had been discriminated against as a result of their choosing not to participate in SRI classes, given that there was, and currently still is, no non-religious SRI option available in Victoria. This case has stimulated extensive public debate and calls for the introduction of education about religions and beliefs (ERB), which incorporates teaching about diverse religious and non-religious worldviews by qualified teachers, in Australia's new National Curriculum from the first years of schooling. Presently such programs are largely taught in faith-based schools, while few government schools provide ERB only in years eleven and twelve.

Up until recently, public education has been the responsibility of State Governments in Australia. Consequently, each Australian State has its own unique history, laws and policies concerning religious education/instruction. Dr Anna Halafoff's research on SRI and ERB focuses on the State of Victoria, given the prominence of the Victorian context in the current 'religion in schools' debate. She commenced research in this field in 2006, when she began researching the multifaith movement and the impact of crisis events on culturally and religiously diverse communities.

Dr Halafoff is involved in local and international scholarly networks researching religions and education and is advising Victorian and national state actors, and peak interfaith bodies, on issues pertaining to ERB in Australia. She has published her research in international journals, edited collections, and in her recent book on The Multifaith Movement and Common Security (Springer 2013). Since the news of the VCAT case broke in 2010, she has frequently been invited to comment in the media on SRI and ERB.

CRGS Research Project

Dr Anna Halafoff, was awarded a Deakin University Central Research Grant in 2012 to further her research on Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB).

The central aim of this project is to investigate Education about Religions and Beliefs (ERB) in Victoria's schools. To achieve this aim the project has four inter-related objectives:

  1. To examine the history of policies and practices of teaching Special Religious Instruction (SRI) and ERB in Victoria's government and non-government schools and how they have changed in response to growing religious diversity.
  2. To compare current policies of ERB in Victoria with other Western societies, including Canada and the United Kingdom.
  3. To conduct a pilot study investigating levels of religious and interreligious understanding among young people in Victoria.
  4. To develop and apply a new theoretical framework of cosmopolitan governance and religion to the study of ERB.

This study will apply a glocal framework, investigating ERB policies in the 'local' context of the state of Victoria, Australia within a 'global' context of other Western multifaith societies, including Canada and the United Kingdom. While there are similarities within these countries, such as a rise in religious diversity and also of critiques of multiculturalism, each of these societies has a unique relationship between religion and state and its own approach to including or excluding ERB in its state education system, which can potentially inform one another.

Selected Publications

Books
Halafoff. A. (2013) The Multifaith Movement and Common Security. Dordrecht: Springer. (features a discussion of Education about Religions and Beliefs in Victoria)
Refereed Journal Articles

Ben-Moshe, D. & Halafoff, A. (2014) 'Antisemitism and Jewish Children and Youth in Australia's Capital Territory Schools,' Special Issue: Migrant Youth, Intercultural Relations and the Challenges of Social Inclusion, Journal of Social Inclusion. pp. 2(2): 47-56

Halafoff, A. (2013) 'Education about Religions and Beliefs in Victoria,' Journal for the Academic Study of Religion, 26(2): 172-197.
Bouma, G. and Halafoff, A. (2009) 'Multifaith Education and Social Inclusion in Australia', Journal of Religious Education. 57(3): 17-25.
Book Chapters
Halafoff, A. (accepted 15 May 2013) 'Riots, mass casualties, and religious hatred: Countering anti-cosmopolitan terror through intercultural and interreligious understanding' in P.Hedges,Controversies in Contemporary Religions (3 Vols), Praeger.
Bouma, G., Ling, R. and Halafoff, A. (2010) 'The Impact of Religious Diversity and Revitalization on Inter-religious Education for Citizenship and Human Rights'. In K. Engebretson, M. de Souza, G. Durka and L. Gearon (eds) International Handbook of Inter-religious Education, Vol. 4. Dordrecht: Springer.pp. 1053-1069.
Reports
Lentini, P., Halafoff, A. and Ogru, E. (2009)Perceptions of Multiculturalism and Security in Victoria: Report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet, State Government of Victoria, Global Terrorism Research Centre, Monash University.
Bouma, G. D., Pickering, S., Dellal, H. and Halafoff, A. (2007) Managing the Impact of Global Crisis Events on Community Relations in Multicultural Australia,Multicultural Affairs Queensland and the Victorian Office of Multicultural Affairs.
Opinion Pieces

Halafoff, A. & Byrne, C (2014) 'Religion should be taught Secularly in our Schools, ' The Conversation, 6 August. Read online.

Halafoff, A. (2013) 'The Future of Religious Education in Australia'. Open Forum. Read Online.
Halafoff, A. and Smith, S. (2012) 'A Question of Faith: Reforming Religious Education in Schools', The Conversation. Read Online.
Halafoff, A. (2012) 'Time for change: A new role for religion in education', The Conversation. Read Online.
Halafoff, A. (2011) 'Religion in Victoria's Schools: A Timely Debate', Article of the Month, Relations with Other Faiths - A Working Group of the Uniting Church in Australia National AssemblyRead Online.
Halafoff, A. (2011) 'The SRI Status Quo is simply not Tenable', ABC Religion and Ethics BlogRead Online.
Bouma, G.D. and Halafoff, A. (2011) 'Time to Review Religion in Schools', ABC Religion and Ethics Blog.Read Online.
Interviews featured in newspaper articles, radio programs and online blogs

Marshall, K. (2014) 'Ethics program aims to teach children to "think well",' The Age, April 23. Read online.

Mornings, ABC 774, 23rd April 2014.

IQ2Debate: Faith BasedReligionHas No Place in PublicSchools, The Wheeler Centre, 26 February.

Currie, N. (2013) Harmony in Diversity, Series 5, Episode 3, Channel 31. 19 September. Watch online.

Allen, A. (2013) 'Matters of Faith: Religious Diversity offers much to Students', Northern Weekly, August 13. Read Online.
Allen, A. (2013) 'Faith in Ethics: Life Matters and Religion get Together in Class', Melbourne Weekly Times, August 14.
Bachelard, M. (2011) 'Backlash as God Forced into Schools', The Age, March 27. Read Online.
Bachelard, M. (2011) 'Anger at Schools Christian Bias',The Age, April 10. Read Online.
Mornings with Jon Fain, ABC 774, 8th April 2011. Read Online.
The Rainbow Report, JOY FM, 8th April 2011. Read Online.
Zwartz, B. (2011) 'Academics call for Review of School Religious Teaching', The Age, April 7. Read Online.

Events

Selected recent events
Australian Association for the Study of Religion Conference, University of Adelaide
Dr Anna Halafoff spoke on 'Revisiting the Russell Report on Religious Instruction in Victoria' at the Australian Association for the Study of Religion Conference at the University of Adelaide in October, 2013.
Religion and Diversity Program
Whose Religion?: Education about Religion in Public Schools 
Dr Anna Halafoff participated in the Religion and Diversity Program's SSHRC Funded Workshop on Whose Religion?: Education about Religion in Public Schools in Ottawa on November 4-5, 2013. This Workshop included international experts in the field of Education about Religions and Beliefs. Dr Halafoff presented on 'The 'Religion in Schools Debate' in Victoria' and has been invited to submit a chapter for publication in an edited collection arising from the Workshop.
International Society for the Sociology of Religion Conference, Turku, Finland 
Dr Anna Halafoff and Prof. Gary D. Bouma co-convened a session on 'Religious Diversity and Religions and Beliefs Education' at the 2013 International Society for the Sociology of Religion conference in Helsinki, in June 2013, featuring presentations from leading ERB experts, including Religion and Diversity Program scholar from Canada and Warwick University's Religions and Education Research Unit (WRERU).
Religions and Beliefs Education in Victoria Roundtable 
Dr Anna Halafoff was an invited presenter and co-organiser with the Office of Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship, Department of Premier and Cabinet's, Multifaith Advisory Group of the Religions and Beliefs Education in Victoria Roundtable at Treasury Place, Melbourne, Australia in December 2012. 
Reclaiming Multiculturalism Conference
Dr Anna Halafoff presented on 'The "Religion and Schools Debate" in Victoria', at the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation's Reclaiming Multiculturalism Conference at Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia, in November 2012.

Reforming Religious and Ethics Education in State Primary Schools Humanist Society of Victoria Public Forum 
Dr Anna Halafoff was a Keynote Speaker on 'Religion and Beliefs Education in Victoria', at the Reforming Religious and Ethics Education in State Primary Schools, Humanist Society of Victoria Public Forum, at the State Library of Victoria, in November 2012.

Victorian Interfaith Networks - Faith Communities Council of Victoria Annual Conference
Dr Anna Halafoff was an Invited Speaker on 'Religion and Beliefs Education in Victoria',Victorian Interfaith Networks - Faith Communities Council of Victoria Annual Conference. Fitzroy Town Hall, Melbourne, Victoria, in October 2012.
Multiple Religious Modernites, Australian Association for the Study of Religion Conference
Dr Anna Halafoff presented on 'Reviewing Religious Instruction in Victoria's Schools', Multiple Religious Modernites, Australian Association for the Study of Religion Conference, University of Western Sydney in October, 2012
New Forms of Public Religion, Religion and Society Project Conference, Cambridge University
Dr Anna Halafoff presented on '"It will take a Court case": Reviewing Religious Instruction in Victoria's Schools', New Forms of Public Religion, Religion and Society Project Conference, St John's College, Cambridge University in September 2012.

Project Team

Project Leader

Dr Anna Halafoff
Lecturer in Sociology
Burwood Campus, Deakin University
Email: anna.halafoff@deakin.edu.au
Telephone: +61 (0)3 9244 3981 

Research Assistants
Ms Kim Lam
Email: klam8@student.monash.edu

Ms Praveena Rajkobal
Email: praveena.rajkobal@deakin.edu.au
Page custodian: Deakin Research
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